Hello hello, so that’s October half term hols over with and if you were/are having those then I hope they were/are nice and you were/are less of a grumpy sod than I was during mine. In my defence I was on holiday with children, otherwise known as ‘not a holiday’.

However, if you are feeling grumpy may I recommend a trip to the very north of Scotland? Get to Inverness and keep going for another 100 miles or so. It takes a little while, but don’t worry, there are whole stretches of road that don’t depend on passing places. Shut your eyes when you reach the execrable John O’Groats and instead rotate your head 180 degrees to take in the Duncansby Stacks. Then head along a bit, maybe to Gill’s Bay and look out over the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Keep heading West and you’ll meet some of the most glorious beaches you’ve ever seen. Oh, and don’t be a NC500 camper van numpty. No-one likes them.

Little bit of travel & tourism content there.

Anyway, much of Scotland is currently getting ready for COP26 in Glasgow next week, which mostly means going on strike, this being an excellent way of reducing carbon emissions by not going to work. Meanwhile, the PR geniuses who rule our lives have worked out that what they call the ‘optics’ of voting down an amendment that would ask water companies not to pump untreated effluent into the prettier parts of the UK just before a climate summit probably isn’t the smartest move.

‘Optics’ is a funny word. When I was a younger cat, they were the things that you used to serve house spirits (‘double whisky then wee man and none of that expensive stuff’) out of. Now it’s a buzz phrase for ‘how things look if we’re worried we might have made some people cross’. It’s optics that drive a huge amount of what huge companies do and of course anyone involved in public life has to watch their optics constantly. As you read this Rishi Sunak will likely be reading aloud his Budget (I’d say ‘delivering’ but he’s already leaked it all) and for all the talk of reining in the boosterish excesses of the dissolute children’s entertainer next door (if you only read one link this week make it that one), optics will play a huge part.

In our industry, ESG-washing is the latest optic to get the fund marketing teams cracking their knuckles and reaching for the green whiteboard markers. In a week of COP26 build-up, attention naturally focuses on the E part of ESG (feel free to insert your own Shamen joke here) but of course there’s much more to it than that and holding yourself to a higher ESG standard requires a bit of optical thinking and hopefully some doing as well.

Financial services has never been much good at optics. This is a sector that regularly has to be grabbed by the regulations and dragged, kicking and screaming, to higher ground. Collectively – given how crucial we are as a sector to the UK population at large – we are like 19th century French politician Alexandre Ledru-Rollin who is meant to have said “There go my people. I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.”

He would have said that in French, obviously, and that brings me to the latest optics fail for financial services in general and investment in particular. Last week the industry regathered in – and you couldn’t make this up – Monaco to ‘reconnect’. I suspect much of the reconnecting going on was in the form of pent-up demand for discussing Ugandan affairs, but that’s by the by.

If you were thinking about optics, and interested in rehabilitating the awful reputation of our sector, would you run a conference in the European capital of tax avoidance? No, you wouldn’t, and neither would I and if the conference organisers suggested it you’d gently suggest that almost anywhere else might be better.

Conferences have to happen somewhere, and I’m choosing to believe that all the fund folks preaching ESG at least paid to offset the carbon of their flights, so that’s not the problem. But if responsible capitalism, impact investing and all the rest of it is actually your bag, and you have even the slightest thought of optics, I suspect you might try and make the job harder for penny-ante satirists and choose to run your conference in, ooh, Berlin, Frankfurt, Milan, Paris, London, Bruges, or any one of a dozen very agreeable European major cities. That said, kudos for all those who preached the ESG gospel with a straight face while dodging David Coulthard.

Good things may happen when the industry meets, and not just on an horizontal basis. But – as any junior politician knows – the substance is the slave to the optic, and it’s a shame that this industry couldn’t even get this right after a year and a half off to think about what the new normal could be.

PLEASE LINK RESPONSIBLY

  • Fieldwork is nearing the end for our biggest adviser research exercise of the year – State of the Adviser Nation. If you haven’t taken part yet and would like to have your voice heard, then please head here. In return you get a full playback of the results, a special paper on family linking on platforms, a free streaming ticket to our non-Monaco based event in February (usually £50) and other cool things. We appreciate it.
  • No HomeGames this week because of the Budget, but if you don’t fancy watching that then watch this.
  • Congrats to ex-James Hay jefe Alastair Conway who lands at FNZ not long before James Hay also lands at, er, FNZ. I suspect he’ll be busy.
  • And your music choice this week is Here Comes Comus! by Arab Strap. The traditional pack of Rolos if anyone can tell me why I’ve picked this one.

See you next week, when HomeGames will return with David Inglesfield of arch-consolidators IWP.

Mark